best supporting actress

American Hustle (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

American Hustle (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 10 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Charles Roven, Jonathan Gordon, Megan Ellison, Richard Suckle), Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Alan Baumgarten, Crispin Struthers), Best Production Design (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler), and Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell).
Watched June 5, 2014.

David O. Russell is becoming an unstoppable director in recent years.  From The Fighter to Silver Lining’s Playbook, and now onto American Hustle, he groups his favorite actors together in this film to punch out another excellently made, sharp piece with similar humor that we all loved in Playbook.  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence are the revisiting dream teams, but their performances are complimented this time by Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K. and other big names in the industry.  The star studded cast combined with the fabulous director should be a recipe for greatness, and although the film took home zero Oscars on awards night, it was certainly a strong contender.

The story is a little unoriginal and one we have seen often.  It is the late 70s and early 80s.  Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is a small time scammer married to a young woman named Rosalyn (Lawrence).  When he meets vivacious Sydney Prosser (Adams)–if that is her real name–he falls in love and ropes her into his business.  They’re eventually cracked by the feds and ambitious Richie DiMaso (Cooper) offers them a deal to get off the hook.  If they will help him to take town some big time scammers they’ll walk.

Irving is a piece of work, and an excellent character, which is probably what attracted Bale to the part.  The opening scene shows precisely how the man creates his masterpiece of a combover, complete with hair piece.  He knows what he wants and how to get it but he also knows when things aren’t right.  Sydney might turn out to be better than him, but I’ll let you decide on that front.

Despite the fact that Rosalyn knows about Sydney, she comes off as a few crayons short of a set and is constantly setting things on fire or talking about her manicures.  She is surprisingly dangerous and passive aggressive.  In true Lawrence-fan fashion, she was one of my favorite characters in the film.  She brings a different side to the comedy that the other characters don’t, although everyone seems a bit gaudy.  As Christy Lemire  from Roger Ebert says, “Her complexity and unpredictability make her fascinating to watch—she’s just unhinged enough to think she’s the voice of reason—and Lawrence is a radiant scene-stealer.”

The costuming is truly on point.  Sydney is obsessed with the plunging neckline.  Just as distracting is Richie’s head of incredibly curly hair (which he curls every night).  Each character is so delectably unique, and yet somehow the story line doesn’t get bogged down with their loud, semi-insane character arcs and holds things together surprisingly well.

Jeremy Renner plays the mayor, Carmine Polito, who is one of the many they are trying to scam.  He is a big time family man who passionately wants to make a difference in the city, but unfortunately his methods are against the law and Richie is chasing after him.  Irving and Sydney have no choice but to go along.  Rosalyn is the loose cannon that could ruin the entire operation, and everybody knows it.  Instead of keeping her at home, they continue to take her to all of the events and set her free.

The big personalities are a recipe for disaster within the film, but outside of that, everything came together fairly well.  Russell went at the con artist angle with more humor than we typically see.  This is perhaps an attempt to make the plot more unique, but really it’s just a rehash of everything we have all ready seen out of Hollywood.  Everything is executed well, as you can tell from the list of nominations, but what was missing was the twist of originality we typically see from the director and his star studded team.

The film is rated R, but is a great comedy with a lot of wit, laughs, and ridiculous situations.  I can appreciate this type of humor a lot more than something like “Ted.”  If American Hustle sounds like something you would enjoy, I would definitely recommend it.

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The Help (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

The Help (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Best Picture (Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan), Best Actress (Viola Davis), and Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain).
Won Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer).
Watched August 23, 2012.

 

It is  the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi.  Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) is just returning from college to realize that she has not only outgrown her friends-turned-housewives, but that the maids she has known and loved her whole life are not happy members of her bridge club society.  To pursue her dream as a writer in a southern belle culture that still supports stay-at-home mothers over a working woman any day, she takes a job at the local paper writing the cleaning column.  Knowing nothing about cleaning, Skeeter enlists her friend Elizabeth’s maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) to help.  From cleaning columns to civil rights stories, their relationship and project takes a drastic turn when Skeeter gets the idea to tell the story of Jackson through the point of view of “the help.”

 

This comedic drama was not something that hit me right away when I initially saw it in theaters.  However, after rewatching it I discovered the emotional depth and the sadness of the maids’ internal dialogues.  The Help has so many integral characters that you would think their stories and personalities might become lost or muddled, but Tate Taylor does an excellent job of bringing Kathryn Stockett’s book to life on screen.  Aibileen has always been a maid–she has raised 17 white children who start out so beautiful and innocent, but then grow up to be just like their racist, segregationist parents.  The Civil Rights Movement is happening all around the country, but the middle class town of Jackson is still chugging along in what other states would have considered the past.  It was a way of living that contradicted the segregation laws of the time–living in harmony with one another while being required to stay apart.

Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), Aibileen’s best friend, knows the dangers surrounding her and her family more than most, but still stubbornly stands up for herself when abused by her employer, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), the steamy villain.  Hilly, who is the epitome of a segregationist, believes in living completely apart from the maids, which includes but is not limited to having designated toilets depending on one’s race.  After Minny pretends that she has used Hilly’s toilet, Hilly immediately fires her in fury.  This leads to one of my favourite pieces of the film–Minny is hired by Miss Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), the outcast woman who the others consider white trash because she married one of “their” men.  In a display of acting so powerful, comedic, and emotionally heartbreaking, these two nominees battle time appropriate stereotypes together and build a relationship that Hilly would have found repugnant.  It is a display of love and friendship that I had not expected from The Help anywhere else than between Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny.

 

There is not a single performance in this film that should be singled out to be knocked down.  Emma Stone’s usual comedy is dialed down to show a depth and an actress so in tune with the emotions of her character that I forgot immediately that she was the diabolical star of the recent Easy A and the wonderful Hannah in Crazy, Stupid, Love.  Skeeter has an innocence and determination that she must have been born with, but then cultivated  in college, away from the influence of her home town.

 

The film deals with not only segregation, but also young love and heartbreak, a miscarriage, and cancer.  Despite Hilly’s best efforts, the love that is shown between so many characters truly makes this a wonderful piece.  More than anything, I would recommend this film to you if you have somehow overlooked it.  It is much more than what many would perceive as a “chick flick,” but is a genuinely wonderful period piece full of humor, fear, and maybe slightly over-the-top villainy.

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